George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 1 May 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

General Providence May 1st 1778

My Dear

I Should have Long Since wrote your Excellencey was there any thing in this Quarter worth Ingaging your attention. I found upon my Journey Home that there was not the Least probability of the Enemys attempting to Rescue Genl Burgoine & Army: I therefore went to New Hampshire where I tarried about twelve Days upon my Arrival here I found no Troops worth mentioning & by the Inclosed Return your Excy will See we are Little Better now.1 Connecticut has not Sent us a Man Massa. but fifty New Hampshire owing to my pushing the matter have theirs principally on the Road.

The Three Last mentioned Regiments will Leave me tomorrow their time Expires this night when your Excy has viewed the Return you will be Surprized at the Indolence of the Enemy They are three Thousand Six hundred Strong of British & Hessians beside a Small Regt of Green-coats made up of Deserters & Refugees from us This Regiment Consists of 127 & is Commanded by one Whitman2 They have Draughted none from Rhode Island this year Except fifty four to Join the Light Infantry of their Grand Army Those Sailed with Lord Howe3—The Enemy are Busy in Fortifying the Island & are much afraid that we are about to attack them I wish the Deception may Continue—Capt. Whipple in the Providence Frigate passed their Shipping with a Strong Gale of Wind the night of the 30th ult. under a Severe Fire which he warmly Returned & got Safe to Sea4—we have nothing new in this Quarter Save that General Pigot Politely Requested me to Disperse his hand Bills among the people which I Refused & Deliverd them over to the assembly5—I Since hear that while I was viewing the Sea Coast below the Enemy the populace Rose & Burnt them under the Gallows6—when any thing worth your Excys Notice Occurs Shall give you the Earliest intelligence Interim I have the Honor to be Dear General with the highest Sentiments of Gratitude & Esteem yr Excys most obedt Servt

Jno. Sullivan


1The enclosed return, dated 2 May, indicates that Sullivan had 149 commissioned, staff, and noncommissioned officers and 658 “Rank & File” under his command in Providence, in addition to 182 artillery men (DLC:GW).

2George Wightman, Jr., of North Kingstown, R.I., was arrested on suspicion of Loyalist sympathies in 1775, but after being conditionally released, he escaped to Nova Scotia and made his way to New York. In March 1777 Wightman became lieutenant colonel of a regiment of Loyalist volunteers, the Loyal New Englanders, while the Rhode Island assembly ordered his arrest and confiscated his property. Wightman’s regiment served in Rhode Island until the British evacuated the state in October 1779; the regiment moved to the vicinity of Lloyd’s Neck before being incorporated into Lt. Col. Benjamin Thompson’s King’s American Dragoons in the summer of 1781.

3Admiral Howe left Rhode Island with his fleet on 23 March and arrived in Philadelphia on 23 April.

4On 30 May the Pennsylvania Gazette (York) printed a report of 9 May from Providence, R.I.: “Captain Whipple, in the Providence frigate, who sailed from this port last week, in his passage down the Bay, was fired on by the Lark frigate, which lay near Warwick Neck, and had got under way; Captain Whipple returned the compliment with a broadside, and we since learned killed three and wounded seventeen of the Lark’s crew; her hull and rigging were likewise much damaged. The Juno frigate, the lowermost of the enemy’s ships, fired a broadside at the Providence as she passed, and received another, but with what effect we have not yet learnt. Captain Whipple likewise poured a broadside into a tender that got under sail, and shattered her so much that the enemy were obliged to haul her to a wharf at Newport, where she sunk. The enemy’s ships did not follow Capt. Whipple to sea as was reported.”

5Maj. Gen. Sir Robert Pigot’s letter to Sullivan of 24 April and Sullivan’s reply of 27 April are printed in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:37–41.

6Pigot reported to Lord George Germain on 17 June that the British peace proposals had been burnt under the gallows at Providence (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 13:313).

Index Entries